Thursday 13 November 2014

Big Ears Teddy : meet Broken Sex Doll

Some backdrop : For most North American War Gen's and Boomers, particularly in religious-y households, sex in the 1950's was simply not talked about. The facts of life were pretty well left to us children to discover for ourselves. Awkwardly. Trial and error. Over-&-over. For many, well past middle age it is said. Discussion? Probing analysis? Moral pulse-taking? Well, uh, no. Just this : "No premature preggers -- proceed at your peril "

So it helps to know that writer / director / producer Andy Thompson, originally from BC's Bible Belt in Chilliwack, was born in 1970. A Gen Xer. Numbers don't lie : there's a 25-year gap in our birthdates and life experiences. It also helps to know this about Mr. Thompson, from Wiki : "After graduating from high school with honours in physics and math, Thompson chose to study arts in college before committing to a career in engineering. This led to his decision to become an actor." Terrific terse bio, that.

Context after 2 weeks of Big Ears Teddy :  

When : 2136.  

Where: Virtual City, Planet Earth.  

Who : Real, sentient beings who fondulate, incessantly, in every imaginable position with every sex-sensitive digit and orifice of their beings. And do so with robots. To music (15 songs in all).

What : A new techno-trick known as "feelies" has been developed. Not 2-dimensional "selfies" snapped off iPhones, nosireee. Feelies allow folks to voyeur others' real-life experiences in total -- hear them, see them, smell them, taste them, even touch them. Sort of like Hustler magazine downloaded and printed in four dimensions including ersatz-flesh. "Holy sniggers, Batman, high-tech porn rocketed into the twilight zone!" What could be better than taking life-in-hand, pulsing and throbbing, and doing it until death do us come. Over and over and over again.

Why : 18 months back Thompson told Andrea Warner of the Georgia Straight -- "I'm interested in a type of world where all sexuality is fine, there are no rules. It's kind of like anarchy." And in reflecting on such a proposition, Thompson mused further : "What if technology continues to advance at this rapid rate : are we, the people, advancing with technology? What will happen over a century if we advance technologically but stay the same or go backwards morally?" Too abstract? Try this then : "My script and the content is so dirty and filthy -- this real gutteral sexuality that's brought to the surface in this anarchic sci-fi future society -- and it's sung so beautifully, the experience is completely unique."

So. In the context of this year's other musical crotch-y productions -- Urinetown and Avenue Q both recently reviewed here as well -- certainly BSD is aligned with them structurally and thematically. Whether in light of that ex-CBC fellow Big Ears Teddy and his  sexual peccadilloes -- and the two weeks of constant media-mashing that followed about BDSM (for you newbies to such stuff that stands for "bondage-domination-sado-masochism") -- well, it's up to potential BSD viewers to decide whether Big Ears Teddy will queer the show at The Cultch's box office or not.

Plot overview : Notionally, this is a "love" story. Between man and beast. Er, android. All about Daryl, BSD's hero, who makes feelies of himself and the animated mannequin Ginger whose mechanical vag is pure magic. So we're told. And listen to. And watch. No smell detected. No touching, surely. The antagonist is a chap named King, Ginger's ex-service-provider. He plots to disengage Daryl from his love object and those magic plastic loins he's still jealous of. 

Here's a quicky primer on the play's plotline :

Daryl Brown (Benjamin Elliott) is a porn aficionado, consumer, producer, actor. He discovers a way for viewers to feel his sense of touch when they download his vids on interactive YouTube. Android Ginger 5000 (Chelsea Rose Tucker) is his chosen partner for a no-holds-barred no-non-sense skin-to-skin escapade "It's Amazing". The show goes viral on the weekly "Feelie" charts. Ginger's ex- in making horny porny is the King (Neezar Joseph Elferzeli). When "It's Amazing" catapults Daryl and Ginger to be Feelie's top guns, King explodes. He spends the balance of BSD enlisting the aid of his sexually ambiguous Mom (Greg Armstrong-Morris), his sexually ambiguous manservant James (Joel Ballard) and Lars his android-techie (GA-M as well) to neuter Brown by deprogramming Ginger and rendering her lifeless. She will dump Daryl by dint of her unceremonious deposit into the town dump. Ginger solicits help from three other broken sex dolls to thwart King & Co.'s plans. End-of-story.

When BSD debut'd in Spring 2013, most critics raved that that year's version might set a new standard for dramatic production in Vancouver. A sex musical among androids? Well, "not quite ready for prime time" I'd say. Unless one suspends one's disbelief in space age proportion -- say as far off the map as the Rosetta comet landing this week 500 million klix away.

But on the other hand...

So let's do just that. Let's disbelieve big-time and view BSD from the vantage point of Comet 67P. Forget the sci-fi sex-plot shenanigans. They're hilarious to Gen X / Gen Y audiences, no doubt, based on opening night responses. But at its core BSD is all about its staging, its choreography, its lighting and its sound design. 

And nevermind that it's completely conservative in its social out-takes : when Ginger rams Daryl with a broom you-know-where, the next scenes are all about how anal sex renders him impotent. Homophobic? Couldn't tell you. But I gotta hunch.

Then there's the role of women, the fleshy one [Mom] as well as the mannequins. (A) The women are all caucasoids, not a blush of racial colour to be seen on stage. (B) They all act like boy-servants. (C) That they "just want to be loved" to exercise their womanly power is hardly avant garde thinking. 

But. But. As a production, BSD is adazzle with excitement, brilliant light-&-sound, boundless energy, and two-tier staging that is clever-plus. BSD at times threatens to disappear into a theatric black hole given its plotline and characters.  But I conclude it's a case where the sum of the whole nowhere equals its individual parts, to warp the old expression. Because many of the individual parts are terrific -- first-rate entertainment well, well worth seeing -- even if your disbelief, like mine, is about as distant as Comet 67P. 

Top marks to so many : Creator Andy Thompson snared uberkind Anton Lipovetsky to create 15 songs for the show. He took to the challenge with verve and juice. Interesting to this ear, however, was how much his numbers reminded me of the Jesus Christ Superstar stuff I used to play to my high school classes in the early 70's. Not the kind of contemporary and experimental cuts one hears on CBC's iconic radio show The Signal with Laurie Brown. Still, very capably done and for which Lipovetsky last year won a Jessie award for Outstanding Original Composition.

Perhaps not quite enough can be said for lighting designer Jeff Harrison, sound designer Brian Linds, and video designer Corwin Ferguson. Their combined efforts along with Andy Thompson's clever cave-man set and its Laugh-In windows (that were popular the year Thompson was born) created a stage space brimming with bounce and pizzazz. Drew Facey's Jessie-winning costumes with the Danier peter-pouches and butt-straps for King and Brown were a giggle. As were the android get-ups particularly for the "other" broken dolls with their shock neon wigs.

The choreography by principals Vanessa Goodman and Jane Osborne of The Contingency Plan dance collective was a "kick" starting instantly with the troupe clicking artfully with the opener "I do not like my life -- I'd rather see the world through your eyes". More delight later on with the androids demanding "No More!" of being treated like, well, androids. TCP's blocking both on the 2nd tier and mainstage simultaneously was visually snappy. 

Very strong performances by Elliott and Tucker in the lead roles, no question. But to this critic Ian Rozylo as Billy Crumble almost stole the show for his animated antics, while Dustin Freeland as the Doc and Joe was but a half-pace behind. Delightful turns by both Armstrong-Morris as Mom and Lars plus Joel Ballard as King's aide James well.

Who gonna like : As indicated, this is a "not for everyone" schtick. The endless bumpy-grindy stuff lost in repetition what its original cleverness caught. At least to this eye. But still, the parody of krappy porn flix (I've seen one or two...) and the underlying satire / slapstick around stupid sex scenarios we've all been subject to made up for the over-done-ness of the whole idea. Want to see staging that grabs you where it hurts, BSD will work for you. If in-your-face sexuality is not your bag, you might prefer to take in a re-run of Doc Martin or Downton Abbey instead. Just sayin'.

Particulars : November 12-22, 2014 @ The Cultch's newest venue, the refurbished York Theatre, 639 Commercial Drive (next to Nick's).

Writer / Director / Producer Andy Thompson. Original Music Anton Lipovetsky. Choreography The Contingency Plan. Costume Designer Drew Facey. Lighting Designer Jeff Harrison. Set Designer Andy Thompson. Musical Direction Courtney Ennis. Sound Design Brian Linds. Video Design Corwin Ferguson. Prosthetics Designer Tomasz Sosnowski.

Featured actors : Benjamin Elliott. Chelsea Rose Tucker. Neezar Joseph Elferzeli. Greg Armstrong-Morris. Dustin Freeland. Ian Rozylo. Joel Ballard. Alex Gullason. Adriana Simone Ravalli. Ranae Miller. Jacob Waike [Daryl understudy].


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